Special Topics in Safety Management

Safety and the Small Business: Specific Challenges and OSHA Support

Small business fuels the American economy. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) defines a “small business” as an independent company with fewer than 500 employees. According to the SBA, there are about 28 million such companies, which represent about 49 percent of private sector employment. Being a small business shouldn’t keep you from thinking big about safety success, though.

Small businesses face unique safety challenges, and size can work both for and against them. OSHA recognizes the challenges facing small businesses, and has reached out to them in a number of ways. 

Small Business Challenges

When it comes to safety and health, smaller establishments experience a disproportionate number of fatalities when compared with larger firms, and they have higher rates of serious injuries. They typically have smaller safety budgets and in many cases, especially with the smallest of the small, no trained safety staff.

Free Webinar: OSHA 1910.269 Layering Do’s And Don’ts, coming Tuesday, September 22, 2015! Don’t forget to register here!

It’s common at small businesses for one individual to wear several hats. For example, the human resources specialist may double as the safety coordinator. Sometimes that can lead to safety falling through the cracks, which can result in a serious incident. A study by the RAND® Corporation looked at the correlation between fatality rates and business size over a 10-year period. For the first time, the research made a distinction between companies with a single location and establishments that may be part of a large organization. The study found that smaller establishments still consistently have much higher safety risks. However, at workplaces with fewer than 100 employees, the smallest firms had the lowest fatality rates—not the highest—and small, single-establishment firms were among the safer workplaces.

OSHA’s Formula for Small Business Safety Success

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides significant resources for small businesses, emphasizing the Administration’s maxim that safety is good business. An effective safety and health program can save $4 to $6 for every dollar invested. The return comes in lower costs, increased productivity, and higher employee morale, according to the Administration.

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OSHA’s formula for small business safety success is the same one the Administration recommends for companies of all sizes that wish to protect their employees and improve their bottom line. The five familiar elements are:

  • Management leadership and employee participation,
  • Workplace analysis,
  • Hazard prevention and control,
  • Safety and health training and education, and
  • Program evaluation.

As you develop or improve your process, make sure it has the full support of everyone in the company—from the CEO and CFO to supervisors and line employees. Don’t hesitate to discuss the potential impact of a catastrophic accident and put it into terms that everyone can understand. One major incident can mean the end of a small business and the livelihoods of everyone that business supports.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at some resources small businesses can use to improve their safety performance.

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